ACSBlog

  • March 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on the Campaign Legal Center’s blog.

    by Noah B. Lindell, Legal Fellow, Campaign Legal Center

    This week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. The Supreme Court told the lower court to go back and take a second look at 11 state house districts to determine whether they constitute racial gerrymanders. But it is the reason why the Court required the do-over that is so significant.

    Bethune-Hill arrived at the Supreme Court after a three-judge federal district court held that the Virginia legislature’s plain use of racial quotas to unnecessarily pack black voters into state legislative districts did not violate the 14th Amendment’s ban on racial gerrymandering.

    In drawing the districts, the Virginia Legislature required all 11 districts to meet a quota of at least 55 percent black voting-age population (BVAP). These sorts of targets tend to be used to pack minority voters into smaller numbers of districts, reducing the influence of the minority population statewide. According to the district court, this race-based intent did not matter, because the districts could, after the fact, be explained by other factors.  But the three-judge court’s ruling was at odds with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v Alabama, which held that a legislature’s unsupported insistence on rigid and mechanical racial targets for state legislative districts provides strong evidence of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.

    Virginia had argued that voters must show an “actual conflict” between race and the more traditional criteria that states use for redistricting, like preserving municipal boundaries and keeping districts compact. As long as a state shows that it could have made the same districts without using race, a racial gerrymandering claim could not go forward. In other words, legislatures could act with a racially discriminatory intent as long as the districts were drawn neatly. Moreover, as the Supreme Court recognized, the traditional criteria relied upon are so malleable that this test would have insulated nearly every racial gerrymander so long as the legislature could invent an explanation for its district lines after the fact.

  • March 3, 2017
    Guest Post

    *This piece originally appeared on StateAG.org's Tierney Blog

    by James Tierney, Former Maine Attorney General and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School

    The Maryland Legislature has finally gotten around to giving that state's outstanding AG - Brian Frosh - the authority that is enjoyed by almost every other AG, e.g. the authority to protect and defend the public interest by exercising his or her own best legal judgement without the approval of the Governor or the Legislature. This initiative finally consigns to the historical dustbin a wrongly decided 1984 decision by the Maryland Supreme Court.

    As the Rhode Island Supreme Court said in 2008, "the holder of that high office (state attorney general), as distinguished from the usual advocate, has a special and enduring duty to seek justice." State of Rhode Island v. Lead Industries Association Inc.et al., 951 A.2d 428 (R.I. 2008). 

    Residents of Maryland can now be assured that their attorney general will now work to "seek justice" for them. And other attorneys general around the country can now fully welcome Maryland into their midst.

  • March 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Catherine Y. Kim, Associate Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law

    Last week DHS issued new guidelines implementing President Trump’s Executive Order on Border Security, announcing a policy of mandatory detention for noncitizens apprehended at the border.

    When a noncitizen arriving at the border is charged with removability, Section 212(d)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act grants immigration officials discretion to release her on parole pending the outcome of removal proceedings. For decades, officials considered factors such as the individual’s age, health, family ties in the United States and the hardship that detention would cause, in determining whether detention was warranted. Last year, DHS reported detaining only 352,882 of the 805,071 noncitizens placed in removal proceedings last year.       

    Under the new guidelines, discretionary grants of parole are prohibited unless the Deputy Director of ICE or the Deputy Commissioner of CBP provides written authorization for the individual’s release; individuals who demonstrate a credible fear of persecution for asylum purposes remain eligible for discretionary parole without such written authorization. The guidelines explicitly preclude grants of parole on a categorical basis, for example, to all children, or pregnant women, or individuals over the age of 80. Moreover, they appear to preclude consideration of alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring.     

    Last year, DHS apprehended 690,637 noncitizens at or between ports of entry. This figure includes 415,816 individuals, including 59,757 unaccompanied children and 77,857 family units, apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol, plus an additional 274,821 individuals denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations. Some of these individuals arriving through the southern border may be repatriated immediately to Mexico without a hearing, assuming the Mexican government agrees to accept them. Some will be able to establish a credible fear of persecution and thus become eligible for discretionary parole. Under the new guidelines, however, virtually all other noncitizens apprehended will be detained.

  • March 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Justin Pidot, Associate Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

    In its zeal to block regulations adopted by the Obama Administration, the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule, sometimes called the venting and flaring rule. The effort is another in a recent spate of misguided uses of the CRA and represents poor stewardship of natural resources owned by the American public. 

    The Waste Prevention Rule requires companies drilling for oil and gas on federal land to take reasonable steps to prevent natural gas from being released into the atmosphere. Gas in the air cannot be used to generate electricity and it significantly contributes to climate change. Companies also do not have to pay royalties on gas that they do not bring to market, meaning that taxpayers receive no revenue from these public resources. 

    The CRA allows Congress to overturn any regulation adopted by a federal agency within the last sixty legislative days. Until this year, Congress only used the CRA once. This week Congress used it to torpedo the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, which required coal mining companies to restore waterways after mining, and Congress is considering a raft of other CRA resolutions. 

    Congress should think twice before using the CRA casually and frequently. Federal agencies spend years developing regulations: the Stream Protection Rule was in development for eight years and the Waste Prevention Rule for more than two. The process of developing a regulation harnesses the wisdom of policy, scientific and legal experts and involves extensive public participation. Under the CRA, Congress undoes years of work in the span of hours; a feature of the CRA is that it limits congressional debate. Perhaps most troublingly, language in the CRA suggests that Congressional action also blocks any similar rule the agency may want to issue in the future, thereby threatening to permanently prevent federal agencies from tackling important issues.

  • March 1, 2017

    by Katie O’Connor

    In an era of record political polarization, there are still a handful of issues on which Americans seem to agree. One such issue is the need to implement serious campaign finance reform and drastically reduce the amount of money in politics. According to a 2015 New York Times/CBS News poll, 84 percent of respondents thought that money has too much influence in American political campaigns. 39 percent of respondents said the system for funding political campaigns needs fundamental changes, and another 46 percent said the system needs to be completely rebuilt. Over three-quarters of respondents were in favor of limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns.

    Despite a near consensus on the need for change, little has been done to slow the flood of money into politics in recent years. In fact, it has only hastened, with some help from the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential election is estimated to have cost $6.9 billion, up from $4.3 billion in 2000. Part of the blame for the impasse lies with Congress, which has been growing increasingly gridlocked for decades. But Congressional deadlock is not a total bar to campaign finance reform.

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the agency whose mission is to enforce and administer campaign finance laws. Specifically, the FEC enforces laws which seek to “limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections; regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.” Despite its bipartisan and overwhelmingly popular mission and its distance from a dysfunctional Congress, the FEC is not immune to gridlock. In fact, it has come to be referred to, in some circles, as the Failure to Enforce Commission.